Hippocratic Manuscript Found in Sinai Monastery

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July 11, 2017

A recently unearthed manuscript at a monastery in the Sinai peninsula once contained writings by the famous Greek physician Hippocrates.

Archaeologists discovered the Hippocratic manuscript, which contains a medicinal recipe, as one of a number of items unearthed during a restoration of the St. Catherine Monastery, in South Sinai, in northeast Egypt. The monastery's library has about 6,000 manuscripts in all, most of them touching on history, geography, and philosophy. The oldest known manuscript in the monastery's library dates to the 4th Century A.D. The Hippocratic manuscript dates two centuries later than that. The manuscript also contains three other medical texts. 

Hippocrates, who lived in the 5th and 4th Centuries B.C., is considered by many to be "the father of Western medicine." He is said to have been the first person to believe that diseases were naturally occurring, not punishments from the gods. A great many medical students still recite the Hippocratic Oath, a promise to abide by ethical principles, as part of their medical training.

The manuscript is a palimpsest, which is something that was used for more one than one writing. In this case, the leather manuscript contained the Hippocratic writing, which was then erased to make way for a Bible text. This was common practice in earlier times because the stretched leather on which the writing was placed was expensive and time-consuming to produce.

Confirming the presence of the Hippocratic text were researchers at the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, which is based in California. The researchers used a technique known as spectral imaging to electronically drill down behind the top layer of text to reveal what was once there many years before.

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